Published on December 17th, 2019 | by Chad Westcott
Electric and Hybrid ATVs, Power Move or Gimmicky Bust?
For several months now electric and hybrid machines have been the only ATVs making headlines. Part of the reason for the hijacked headline space is the lack of manufacturer enthusiasm for ATVs, more often than not re-packaging the “same ole, same ole” with new color schemes or accessories instead of offering exciting and new machines. With huge companies like Tesla and Segway dipping toes into the off-road market with either all electric or hybrid vehicles it’s hard not to hear the collective groan from oil loving enthusiasts. But with this cry comes the questions; is this really happening?
There’s some disconcerting trends out there that lead us to believe the concept and seemingly experimental vehicles rolling out the last several months are more than just the product of a disillusioned R&D department whose time would be better spent re-envisioning our old favorites. Take the older cousins of our beloved quads for example, the two wheelers. Electric motorcycles are here to stay, and in the face of a declining segment of the market for many manufacturers, they stubbornly put up solid sales figures and mid-single digit growth annually.
Ask a bearded Ultra-Classic mounted boomer if his beloved Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company would concede to the environmentally conscious millennials desire for clean emission mobility 10years ago and you’d likely be met with laughter or a disapprovingly grunted “over my dead body”.
Hear the bell toll? Yep, Harley-Davidson, Ducati, Triumph and our more familiar OEMs (to the ATV world) Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki are dabbling with electric motorcycles. There are even reports that the Big 4; Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki are collaborating to develop uniformed standards for electric motorcycles. Even BRP recently announced that they’re working on electric versions of their wildly popular three wheeled Ryker, and potentially even some two wheeled options.
So does one hand feed the other? Does the attention paid to the electric two wheeled market by major off-road OEMs mean that ATVs are headed for the nearest wall outlet?
Short answer: Maybe
Electric motorcycle sales soar because of the global and urban markets. Off roaders are a rowdier, rougher crowd. We’re more prone to the love of the smell of a 2-stroke and the sound of a HMF exhaust than we are willing to embrace a quiet linear power and the inconvenience of charging stations.
But electric ATVs will have their place. Imagine moving silently through the woods during hunting season, or rapid acceleration in a perfectly linear power band on track or short course. There may even be an affluent corner of the market (there has to be with prices these days) that prefer a quieter vehicle for exploring the outdoors.
As the industry standardizes and progresses with electric cars and motorcycles, it’s not inconceivable to think mobile charging stations could easily be placed anywhere that has electricity. And would charging your machine while you stop to eat lunch or at the end of the day really be all that inconvenient?
The prospect of more riding areas is a good one too. Quieter electric machines could allow for riding areas closer to cities, especially tracks or short courses for sport machines. It could also open up more
public land for recreational use. If sound and emissions are less concerning to federal land management agencies, more corners could be carved out for riding areas.
Yes, we love our gas powered machines as much as the next guy. But the prospect of a resurgence of the sport ATV category butters our bread more than the potential for one of the Big 4 to give us a 1000cc thick bellied 4×4. If its electric power that enables that production, and opens up areas that were previously unrideable due to noise pollution, so be it, roll em out!